By C ale Pickford
Originally submitted to Maine REALTOR Magazine
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been far-reaching in all industries, but it seems clear that 2020 and 2021 have fundamentally changed the way business is conducted and, in turn, left an indelible mark on the commercial real estate market.
Demand for warehouses and distribution centers for e-commerce, self-storage facilities, affordable housing and certain retail spaces for grocery and pharmacy businesses is at an all-time high, while occupancy rates for hotels, retail, restaurant and traditional metro downtown office space have weakened significantly.
Many of these struggling sectors were buoyed by federal stimulus money, and many of the changes to the way people work will remain for the foreseeable future. The impact of this is being felt right here in the Pine Tree State.
Through both economic studies and anecdotal evidence, we know that Maine is getting a massive influx of new residents. Many are bringing their jobs with them and working remotely for employers elsewhere, while many others will be looking to start new small businesses in our state. Maine welcomes these entrepreneurs − but it is important that dreams intersect with reality before the purchase to bring about an understanding about how insurers look at mixed-use real estate. This knowledge can help you guide your clients in making a decision that will set them up for long-term success.
We can all agree that remote working is here to stay. While there is no question that many employees and business still find value in shared office space which facilitates professional and social interaction, it is clear that the idea that one has to be in a traditional office in order to be productive has been entirely debunked. As a client who recently moved from Massachusetts to Midcoast Maine told me, he could do his job from the moon if there was an Internet connection there.
For the most part, employees of larger companies who work from home do not have any unique insurance needs and a standard homeowner’s policy will accommodate their professional use of the home. However, it seems like an equal number of people are bringing their professional expertise to Maine and are looking to work as freelancers or consultants.
Depending on the business sector, these independent professionals need to insure their business in many of the same ways that larger companies do. As with remote employees, so long as they do not have client traffic or employees in their home, they often can rely on a traditional homeowner’s policy to insure their home, though it is important to note that that policy will still exclude any business property or liability exposure. In order to close that gap, these independent professionals will need to secure a commercial insurance package policy, which provides general liability, business personal property (think of that expensive laptop and Zoom lighting set up) and most importantly, professional or errors and omissions liability insurance. Knowing the costs of this insurance program up front is an important component of a sound business plan.
How about those occupations where business cannot be conducted via phone, email and Zoom? Maine has produced and attracted artisans and craftspeople for generations and many of these creative and skilled people take advantage of the low cost, short-commute synergy that home-based businesses provide.
As with work-from-home professionals, the unmodified homeowner’s policy excludes coverage for business activities and property. However, unlike use of a room at home for the new traditional office space, many other business activities will disqualify one from homeowner’s coverage altogether. In instances such as these, usually the home or outbuilding where business is conducted (i.e. where the product is made) will need to be insured on a commercial policy and then the owner needs to be insured as a tenant of the commercial building.
This kind of hybrid solution picks up the personal property and liability protection which is excluded on the commercial insurance policy. Examples of businesses which might compromise eligibility for homeowners programs would be woodworking, boat building, commercial food products manufacturing, ceramics manufacturing with kilns, farming, and many others.
Historians and economists suggest that the pandemic-inspired paradigm shift will propel Maine to a transformational chapter characterized by sharp gains in property values, a younger and growing population and economic growth. No doubt this current trend will continue, with many individuals and families making the leap of faith to move to Maine and following their dream. As a central advisor in that transition, make sure these dreamers and doers are considering all of the practical challenges that their move entails. And as always, a critical component of that advice is for your buyer to call a local independent insurance agent who understands your client’s dreams and can suggest insurance and risk management solutions that will protect their future.